Archive | May, 2011

alon & his many women

31 May

With his lovely wife:

His daughter:

The bride:

And me…oh dear:

I met him in Israel, looking like this…

…and now John and I can’t imagine our lives without you.  Just, maybe next time you and John go white water rafting, pick a day other than our anniversary and your wife’s birthday.  A happy wife is a happy life.







matt & claire

30 May

Lauren’s* Wedding Charge:

For those of you who did not read Matt and Claire’s meticulously created and beautiful website, you are missing out. For those of you that have,  I am the Lauren who repeatedly introduced Claire and Matt.

Matt and I are “second generation” friends; meaning, we go so “way back” that our moms began their friendship during college. Claire and I met in rabbinical school, where we bonded by passing copious notes back and forth to one another. (In a style a little less like university students and a little more like high school.)

When you first chose to get together, I spoke a few choice words to each of you: “If you do this, you can never break up. It will totally mess up my life.” I am elated not only that you followed my advice,  but that the two of you have flourished as a couple.

As you enter into this sacred relationship, we look to the very first relationship in Jewish tradition: Adam and Eve. The rabbis tell the following story about their experience:

From the day that Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, they lived together, tilling the earth, raising children, and struggling to stay alive. After many years of toil, when their children were grown, Adam and Eve decided to take a journey before it was too late and see the rest of the world. They traveled together from one corner of the earth to the other and explored all the world’s wonders. They stood upon the great mountains, trekked across the vast deserts, walked amid the mighty forests, and traversed the magnificent seas. They watched the sun rise over the endless wilderness and they saw it set into the boundless ocean. They beheld it all.

In the course of their journey, they came upon a place that seemed familiar: the Garden of Eden, from which they had been exiled on the very first day of their lives. But the Garden was locked and barred.

Suddenly, they heard a voice, gentle and imploring. It called: “My children, you have lived in exile these many, many years. Your punishment is complete. Come now; you may return to My Garden.”

Before their eyes, the locks disappeared and the gates swung open. But Adam hesitated.  He asked “It has been so many years since we lived there; remind me again what it is like in the garden?”

The response came: “The Garden is Paradise! There is no work; you need never toil or struggle again. There is no pain or suffering; there is no death. In the garden, there is no time – no yesterdays, no tomorrows, only endless today.”

Adam and Eve thought about a life with no work,  and no struggle.  No pain and no passage of time. And no death. An endless life of ease, with no tomorrow and no yesterday.

They looked at one another and saw the person with whom they had struggled to make a life and to take bread from the earth. To raise children, and to build a home. They read the lines of each other’s faces, all of the tragedies they had surmounted, and all of the joys they had cherished together. They saw in each other’s eyes all of the laughter, and all of the tears they had shared.

“No, thank You,” they said. They took one another’s hand, and Adam and Eve turned their backs on the Garden, to return home, to the paradise that they had created together.

Life is not perfect or even easy; you will face obstacles both great and small when trying to create a meaningful life for each other – building a safe, secure home, raising children, and bringing bread from the earth (or in Claire’s case, more like trying to bring bread from xanthan gum and tapioca flour).  Nonetheless your existence will be made more beautiful by the joys and challenges that you will face together.

It is my joy to offer you this blessing:

Our God and the God of our fathers and mothers, bestow blessings upon Claire and Matt as they unite their lives. Help them to thrive together. Teach them to share life’s joys and trials, and to grow in understanding and devotion. May love and companionship always abide within their home. May they grow together in health and contentment, ever grateful for this sacred union in their lives.

*You’ve all heard of Lauren before.  (If you haven’t, you really should.)  She’s the sister of my best friend and, truly, I think of her like my sister as well.  Lauren, thank you for creating (with Ben’s input) the ideal wedding charge for this pair of newlyweds who genuinely are perfect for one another.  And, for my part, rather selfishly, thank you for bringing them into my life and making me a part of their’s as well.  I love their friendship tremendously, and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to celebrate their union with all their family (a very broad definition of such).

Lauren & Alon.

zombies, witches, and westerners

29 May

I don’t think I’ve shared that I’m officially in the joint MD/MBE (Master of Bioethics) program at Penn.  I sorta fell into it haphazardly.  Penn Med (excuse me, the Perelman School of Medicine) has this awesome deal where med students can take up to three classes outside of the school of medicine free of charge (you know, free after the 48,000+/year in tuition).  In the fall, I was debating between a ceramics and a photography class, but I got sucked in to taking the intro to bioethics course instead, in large part because several classmates I hoped to befriend were enrolled in the course (I’m hugely susceptible to peer pressure).  Then I got hooked.  I really really enjoyed the class: the content; the teaching; the written components; the flexible attendance policy.

This past week was the first class meeting of my summer bioethics course: Global Health from an Anthropological Perspective (formerly entitled “Zombies, Witches, and Westerners,” but Nora felt like the class needed a more “academic-y” sounding name).  I wrote my MA thesis on diaspora, inherited trauma, and healing as depicted in the work of Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, so the scope of this course feels right up my alley.  And–so fun!–toward the end of class, Nora showed the video I raved about in this post.  It’s going to be a great summer, and I can’t believe that, upon completion of this class, I’ll be halfway done with my MBE!

en plein air

28 May

As it happened, I had a very romantic Thursday evening with Stephanie, Nathalie, Julia, and Nana.  We snacked under the stars at Bistrot la Minette while watching an outdoor projection of Le Placard.  Bret was our waiter and, as I think we were a welcome change from the perhaps potentially stuffy clientele, I’ll venture to say that he was quite charmed by us–a dessert or two might have been omitted from the bill.

Unfortunately, I came home to maybe my least favorite job in the world: packing.  I am horrible, horrible at packing.  And it drives John nuts.  Well, let me rephrase: I am fantastic at packing for trips longer than two weeks (I once studied overseas with only a carry-on to last me a couple months); I am terrible at packing for weekends.  I procrastinate; I engage in anything else, until I absolutely must pack, and then I pull the most pathetic all-nighter in the hopes that I might actually make my bus/train/airplane on time.  One day, I’d love to learn how to be one of those adults who can function in society…pipe dreams, I guess.

BTW, John, you’d be pleased to know that I did not, in fact, just throw clothing into my suitcase this time.  I do not exaggerate, at least two-thirds of packed items are actually folded, with creases no less.

best. anatomy. table. ever.

26 May

Doria had never dyed eggs.

I love us.  Only table six could succeed at making such exquisite feasts, block after block, that are both completely vegetarian and gluten-free.  Potlucks, arts and crafts included.

I think it’s worth saying twice: I love us.

crazy happy/tired

25 May

I’m exhausted…in the very best way.  I might not have known repro and endo as well as I would have liked but, if I could relive the last five weeks, I would make the same decisions.  Every weekend of this block was something to which to look forward.  I had a wonderful weekend visitor (who just finished post-bac and the MCAT–double woot!) for weekend one, took my second mediation intensive with the bioethics department over the following two weekends (and didn’t feel like I was completely flailing–just moderately so–this time around), sang in eight sold-out concerts with the Philadelphia Orchestra for the last two, and had weekend study retreat with Eric (I didn’t cry once…that has to be a first for the weekend before exams, right?), only leaving the apartment to throw on my black old maid’s garb and sing a few tunes.

Well, I was going to go on about some of the details of this block (like learning how to perform manual vacuum aspiration on a papaya), but I think paragraph one already has me coming off as somewhat of a pompous ass.  Forgive me, I don’t care enough to infuse a demure tone into it.  I’m just ecstatic that everything worked out.

In another post, I’ll share some of the more challenging aspects of the last block (they’re interesting too, I promise!), but I’m still in celebration mode.  I got to see John for the first time in over a month after completing five hours worth of sorting through terrifying endocrine conditions and identifying different presentations of pelvic inflammatory disease (seriously, could someone open me up just to make sure I’m not covered with gross adhesions?–I’m mildly terrified).  And I was able to coerce Matt into another visit–for a night, it felt like it did when we all lived in the same city.  Last night was my last concert, made so much more special knowing that Christina and Kate were somewhere in the masses and Eric, after a 2.5-hour failed attempt to secure a student rush ticket, was watching the first movement from a monitor in the lobby–such thoughtful friends there are at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.  At least it’s a pleasant lobby:

As Matt was leaving town this afternoon, before I retreated back to biomed for my failed attempt to catch up on GI, I hugged him goodbye three times…during the last of which I said, “Please keep hugging.”  95% of the sentiment was because he’s a dear friend and I hate living in separate cities.  5% was due to the fact that I am. really. tired.  It’s mildly uncomfortable to expand my rib cage to breathe.  And it was really nice to rest some of the weight of my body on a good friend.  Sorry, Matt; don’t hate me for using you.

Less than four weeks left of my first year of med school and until John’s graduation from residency!!!  I miss my husband.

I’m going to sleep, still three lectures behind.

stravinsky + beethoven > repro + endo

19 May

A text from Matt A., sent from across the room in the middle of rehearsal, September 2009: “This piece = my favorite!”

To be honest, I wasn’t wild about Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms at the time.  I could appreciate it, for sure, but most of it isn’t exactly conventionally beautiful, and there were moments during the fugue of the second movement that made me want to put a screwdriver through my face.  It didn’t help that the concert series was smack-dab in the middle of med school interview season and I just wanted to go home to my husband of, what, five days.

But I’m pretty easily influenced by the people I love.  I think that it was largely due to Matt’s overwhelming enthusiasm for Symphony of Psalms that I gave the symphony a fair shake.  And now I can say with certainty that it’s one of my favorite pieces and that, like a favorite story or place, I love it more every time I return to it.

So now I’m in real trouble.  When the Philadelphia Singers presented me with the opportunity to sing this beloved piece with the Philadelphia Orchestra on the stage of the Kimmel Center, how could I say “no”?  Even if it’s the weekend before two finals (reproduction and endocrinology)?  Well, if I fail out of med school, at least I’ll go out in a blaze, with Stravinsky and Beethoven driving the flaming vehicle.  (BTW, the second movement has grown on me, but the third is still my favorite–it’s a mixture of peace and excitement, and it makes me think of summer.)

Tonight will be my first time ever performing Beethoven’s Ninth.  (My German…well, let’s just say it leaves something to be desired.)  I have a hunch that, after this post, many assume that I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body.  There’s a tender passage in the middle of the symphony that roughly translates to: “Do you bow down, millions?/ Do you sense the Creator, world?/ Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!/ Beyond the stars must He dwell.”  I don’t have a good comprehension of a God, but Beethoven’s is evident in the texture of the music.  It’s transcendent.  I could get to know Beethoven’s Creator.

Me with two of the gents who led me down this awful road of believing I could have  life outside med school, Tanglewood 2009:

One of them just took Step 1, the other is about to take the MCAT.  They’re both (frustratingly/inspiringly) brilliant.

*   *   *   *   *

My posts have been pretty infrequent recently.  The last month has been uniquely both personally challenging and fulfilling…but my only real disappointment is that I really like endocrine and repro, and I wish I had more time to devote to learning them.  I’ll get back in the swing of things after Monday.  Wish me luck!

in remembrance, with gratitude

11 May

Today, with the Humanity Gifts Registry, first-year students from all medical schools of Philadelphia came together to pay tribute to the generous men and women who donated their bodies so that we could learn the human anatomy.  My dear friends Karthik and Rose presented heart-felt, thought-provoking eulogies, my peers in Music on Call and the Ultrasounds demonstrated humble appreciation through music, and a number of us read 10-12 individual names of donors.  I noticed myself clinging a little to the names of the male donors, wondering which one belonged to “Samson,” the man who so profoundly shaped the education of the ladies of table six.

It was a privilege to get to speak with many of the donors’ families following the ceremony, to hear a little more about their loved ones and the nature of their deaths or, more importantly, of their lives.  I’m still trying to figure this feeling-process out, but I felt comfort (and surprise) when I learned that many of the family members in attendance are donors themselves–one woman explicitly stated that she was proud to be a member of the registry; another said that donation was becoming a family tradition.  I suppose it’s some indication that we’re doing something right in our care and treatment of the donors and their families, that the respect and appreciation we feel is being appropriately conveyed.  The heart of the matter, however, is the spread of selflessness; I’m simply overwhelmed by the commitment to education, the generosity, and, quite frankly, the bravery of the donors, the future donors, and their families. 

Let’s not take for granted what it means to donate one’s body, a sacrifice not just made by the individual, but by his/her loved ones.  It’s not just about not having a person to bury, or going against the rituals of one’s faith (though both are excedingly important, and I do not mean to trivialize either).  A few years ago I told John that I wanted to donate my body to medical education.  He very respectfully, hesitantly said, “I really wish you wouldn’t.  At least, I hope you take anatomy and then make your decision.”  Having completely anatomy, I can honestly say that I think I would donate my body, though with some fear, certainly.  The idea of John donating his, however, is nearly revolting.

I like to think that these donors and their families knew what a donation entails.  I wonder if they were ever given the opportunity to explore an anatomy lab or get an accurate description of learning process.  As the eulogists so eloquently addressed, these donors were some of our most valued, selfless teachers who will impact our entire medical education and concurrent/subsequent patient care.  But, though stated in ceremony was not as emphasized (understandably), the donors and their families were/are courageous beyond words.

pour les mamans

8 May

About a week ago, I found myself going on about some of my mother’s adorable/ridiculous idiosyncrasies…like the fact that she believed so strongly in the importance of properly recognizing and celebrating birthdays that she flat out lied about the date of mine, choosing instead to celebrate it on June 27th rather than December 27th, so that it didn’t get folded in and forgotten with Christmas/New Year’s festivities.  One of my friends chimed in that she would really like to meet my mom, that she sounded fascinating.  I smiled.  She really was.

She passed away a little over a decade ago, and I can honestly say that I think about her everyday–mostly fairly happy memories or fun ideas, like that I think she would be tickled pink that I still core and slice apples like her (there are many different techniques!) or that I’ve finally come around to hating the cold but loving snow.  Sometimes, out of nowhere, I get inexplicably sad.  It hurts my heart a little to think that she never knew John or the Y’s & Co. or my colleagues and mentors from college and beyond who did so much to, like her, shape who I am.  In the blur that was our wedding day, one interaction will always stand out for me: in the midst of drinking and revelry, Mr. W (our neighbor of 20+ years) pulled me aside to tell me that he and his wife were so happy for us, and that he knew my mother was proud.  Well, I know mom would decidedly not be proud of everything I’ve done in the last 10+ years (good God, she would cringe at the indiscretion of a public blog!), but in that moment I believed him.

Clearly, I could on for far too long on this subject so, in typical anna-fashion, I’m just going to resort to a top ten list (hmmm, more like “first ten”; I’m sure I’ll want to include another ten or twenty as soon as I hit “publish”)…I’ll try to exercise some amount of length restraint (I will fail):

  1. Born in Czechoslovakia during WWII, my mother was named Gunda Carmela Sporer.  I swear she was the only Gunda out there who was not an Eastern European speed skater.  In response to a lifetime of people butchering her name, she chose to name all four of her children names that were easy to pronounce and easy to translate.
  2. She had, no joke, actual synesthesia: she saw letters and numbers in very specific colors.  I remember once coloring in enlarged numbers in a coloring book and she looked over my shoulder and said, “Honey, the number 3 is always pink.”  I was four, and I still remember thinking to myself, What the f—??
  3. Mom loved reptiles, amphibians, and tigers.  She would catch a frog just so that we could kiss him to see if he would turn into a prince.  For one of her last birthdays, Dad arranged to have a three-week old tiger brought to the house.  Mom got to name him (Amir), and he would suck on our fingers because he was teething…the jaw strength of a tiger cub is just a little unsettling.
  4. Like I mentioned, she was born in Czechoslovakia, but her family moved to Southern France in 1945, where she lived until she received a scholarship to go to college…in Wisconsin (hater of cold that she was).  As a result, her cooking was a mixture of Mediterranean and good ol’ American home cookin’, with a side of spaetzle to give credit to her Eastern European roots.  When we ran out of deli meat, my mom would send me to school with a piece of dark chocolate shoved between two slices of baguette.  I was a lucky, albeit slightly chubby, child.
  5. Gunda spoke seven (seven) different languages fluently, and.she had an accent in every single one.  She raised me speaking French, and she and I would flow in and out of French and English without realizing.  It drove my friends crazy.
  6. She was a flippin’ amazing educator, teaching foreign languages (French, Spanish, German mostly) to all age levels (mostly second grade through college).  Parents would drive their kids from hours away in order to be tutored by her.
  7. My mother had a special love of mixed tapes, especially ones that included classics by the Gypsy Kings, Dire Straits, and the Eagles (her favorite song was “Take It Easy”…go figure).
  8. Mom would pull me out of school a few weeks early so that we could go to France that much earlier to hang with the fam.  “You’re in third grade…what are you really going to learn that you can’t make up with a couple extra weeks surrounded by French speakers?”
  9. She loved gardening and art.  One year, the family went out to Monet’s garden at Giverny.  She pulled aside this man with a white beard because she thought he looked like Monet: “Excuse me, but would you take a picture with my daughter?”  So now, in our home in Virginia, we have an 8×10 of 10-year-old anna with a random old man in front of water lilies.
  10. On mother’s day, it’s important to recognize the mothers who truly have, especially in the wake of my mother’s passing, treated me like family.  I know that I am likely forgetting someone in my rush to get back to studying the physiology of sexual response (tough life), so please don’t be shy and give me an earful.  Francoise, Teda, Genevieve, Leslie, Christine, Jean, Jill, Mary Ann, Pamela, Jane, Emily, Judy, Donna, Priscilla, Terry, Linda, Mieko: I am so very lucky to have your love and support.  Happy Mothers’ Day!